Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stop reading press releases and start reading spreadsheets, Mr. Secretary

You  may have caught that Mass Secretary of Education Peyser was on Greater Boston with Jim Braude earlier this week. WGBH has done us all the favor of posting a transcript of the conversation along with the video.
While we all knew that we now have a Secretary of Education who has no experience in teaching, what is apparent from this conversation is we also have a Secretary of Education who has no interest? experience? knowledge? of or in school or budgetary operations, either.

Braude asked: Do you have enough money to do what you think needs to be done to close that achievement gap that Democrats and Republicans want to close?
Peyser respondedSo I think we do have enough money.
Then, after conceding that money matters, look what he uses as an example: 
 Using Lawrence as another example: The state went in there and basically did not spend a lot of new money but reallocated money out of the central office and put it back into the schools, and that’s the way in which we can go forward and get more out of what we’ve got.
As I've posted previously, this is simply untrue. The year that the state put Lawrence into receivership, Lawrence was nearly $9 million under required spending. The next year, Lawrence was $1.3 million OVER required minimum spending. That swing of $10 million is certainly "a lot of new money."  There's no doubt it would make a difference on a budget of $155 million, which is where Lawrence started. 
(And remember: you don't have to believe me; go download the Chapter 70 profile spreadsheet yourself.)
Above, when responding to the question about enough money, the two numbers Peyser cites are the $100 million increase in state education aid and the $4.6 billion in state education aid total, both of which have been cited in about every press release I've seen on the budget. Those are, yes, both big numbers. They also are cited completely without any context.
The context lacking is that of the various thoroughly researched reports that show the gap in funding, like MassBudget's Cutting Class. It is hardly news in Massachusetts that the settlement of the McDuffy suit is overdue for reconsideration, as it's undercalculated.
This has also been the subject of hours and pages of testimony from districts across the state before the Foundation Budget Review Commission. Inflation, special education, and health insurance are drastically undercalcuated, and districts are either funding above foundation to cover it or cutting other areas--classroom areas--to cover it. The Secretary sits on that Commission. That he has missed the loud and clear message coming from districts makes it clear that his is an idealogical rather than thoughtful and researched position. 


Dan said...

Thank you for this and all you do to try and inform.

Unknown said...

Great post Tracy. Does the Secretary take part in the Foundation Hearings? Does he actively participate?

I know that Peyser is all pro Charter - Jim Braude was quick to point out that Charters serve a very small population of students - one would question the investment in them at this point (interesting spreadsheet that you shared with MASC today). However look at other areas in the budget that have seen larger increases over the past decade or so. We need to be on that same level playing field as other state services.

So far Charlie and crew are living up(down) to my expectations. I really hope those City leaders that were quick to embrace CDB and Polito realize they may have signed their own death sentence.